Selecting Universities for Higher Studies – Pick a better university over better funding?

These days many KUET alumni are coming to USA for higher studies. One major step everyone has to do is to select universities to apply. This is a tough decision and time consuming process. Spending good amount of time to make informed decision to pick right universities is very important for our future career.

Due to great access to internet and easy reach to seniors, I believe everyone knows the following basic steps. I am just listing them as a refresher.

1. Get a list of universities(possibly with some ranking) from internet e.g. US News.
2. Go over each of these universities’ particular department website (and faculty websites) that you are interested in. Make a short list of say 15-20 schools based on their GRE/TOEFL/GPA cut off threshold, and department/faculty strength on the research area that you are interested in.
3. Now you can start emailing to professors and graduate students(including KUET alumni) of these departments to know more about their programs e.g. funding situation, current research activities/publishing rate of research groups, current need of graduate students, etc.
4. Based on the responses you get and your internet research, you can now make informed decision to short list 8-10 universities. Rule of thumb – 2 ambitious 4 moderate(50-50 chance) 2 safe schools

I am assuming most of you already know the process I listed above.What upsets me sometimes when I see many KUET students, even with very high profile, pick lower ranked universities just for the sake of getting some sort of funding or better funding. This is the primary topic of this writing – Pick a better university over better funding chances? I would like to remind my fellow KUETians about some future consequences of picking up wrong universities for wrong reasons e.g. better funding amount and would like to suggest the following to keep in mind during university selection phase. These may help you in the long run.

- If you want a research/teaching job after PhD(can be a direct PhD right after undergrad or a MS then PhD), you need to know this – it’s almost always the case that companies or universities will hire top grads from top/good schools for teaching/research jobs. Many times PhD grads from low ranking universities end up getting many years of low paid post-doc research job at universities before actually getting a real full time research/faculty position in community college or small university where research opportunities and career advancement is limited or eventually get a regular engineering job which can be obtained with a MS/BS degree only. As you may guess, top universities has more research funding, bigger research groups and your chance of publishing and doing good research is higher which will help land a research job. You will have more faculties in your interested research area. Also, in case you find out after going to your department that you do not like the research of your research adviser, you can switch to a different faculty adviser but still do research you like.

-If you are applying for MS only, your chances are higher of getting admission in top/mid ranked universities is higher(possibly with no/little funding). It is even worth paying a semester on your own at a great/good university than getting some funding at unknown universities because it would be way easier to get an internship/full time job afterwards. With a good summer internship you can easily cover close to one year of tuition if you save wisely. Also, almost everyone manages funding of some sort in a bigger/top school because there are plenty of on campus jobs as well as RA/TA in other departments. If your priority is to get a job right after MS, you MUST pick universities where many companies come at career/job fair to recruit. You can find this out by looking at the career center website of the university you are considering. You should also target universities which are near to companies you dream to get a job in. Sometimes medium/low ranked universities have excellent recruiting/hiring rate due to proximity of the universities.

-Always aim higher. Do NOT be afraid to take the risk of applying a few top universities and more good universities than picking safe bets. At most you are going to lose little bit of money for the application fee but please also try to visualize the bright side. If you get in, you career path of success would be a great one. It would be much easier to get into a research career or launch a great job in a great company.

Bottom-line is that you should apply to good universities even if you do not hear from faculties, and feel you may not get funding initially in a good school. You will never know until you apply. To increase your chances, you can apply more good universities. Happy school hunting. Wishing everyone all the best.

-Raihan
Portland, USA

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